Few issues are more emotionally complex than child custody and parenting time. Parents can spend years and thousands of dollars fighting through custody and parenting time disputes in court. An experienced child custody lawyer, however, understands that parents can usually avoid prolonged conflict through negotiation and a willingness to be reasonable. Our team at Shilts & Setlak, LLC is dedicated to helping parents in Fort Wayne and the surrounding areas resolve child custody issues through alternative dispute resolution, without resorting to protracted litigation. We also recognize that some cases require taking a stand — and an ability and willingness to go to court — to fight for our clients’ rights to be an integral part of their children’s lives or to protect the children as necessary from an abusive parent.
In Indiana, custody is separated into two parts: legal custody and physical custody, more commonly referred to as “parenting time.” Legal custody is the right to make certain important decisions related to the upbringing of your child. When we talk about legal custody we are typically referring to the right to make decisions about education, health care in non-emergency matters, and religion. Legal custody can be sole, as in only one parent has the right to make these decisions, or joint, where the parents share the decision-making ability.
When one parent receives primary physical custody, the other parent usually retains some rights to parenting time. The Indiana Supreme Court sanctioned the issuance the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines and these are frequently incorporated into agreements or court orders. The right to have and exercise parenting time with children cannot be affected by the parent’s failure to make child support payments. A court can disallow or restrict parenting time only if it finds that the noncustodial parent poses a danger to the child’s physical health or significantly impairs the child’s emotional development. Even if the noncustodial parent has been convicted of domestic violence, that conviction alone may not be sufficient to deny parenting time, although the court may require that parenting time be supervised or restricted in other ways (no overnights or exchange of children at a public location).
The determination of parenting time arrangements is deeply personal and must take into account the lifestyles and employment duties of both parents as well as the best interests of the children. While court approval is ultimately necessary in every case, parents can streamline the process by agreeing to joint custody and working together to create a parenting time schedule that divides physical custody between them and sets forth guidelines for making decisions about the child’s upbringing. When the parents cannot reach an agreement, courts frequently refer these cases to mediation as part of a divorce or paternity action.
When parents are unable to come to an agreement, the court decides custody based on what it determines to be the best interests of the child. While the court has great leeway in making this determination, the law does direct the court to consider several factors in making its decision:
Once the court enters a child custody order — not parenting time order — custody may only be modified if there is a substantial change in one of the above listed factors and if the proposed modification is in the best interests of the child.
For dedicated legal assistance related to child custody and parenting time arrangements in Indiana, contact the experienced team of attorneys at Shilts & Setlak, LLC today.